HOW TO CREATE A TIMELAPSE

Updated: Oct 6

Whenever I was on a trip I would always experiment a little with timelapses. I never took it too serious, never really planned out a shot, just kind of set up where ever I was and set the camera to start shooting. Fast-forward to 2020 and my love and passion for landscape videography/photography has grown and I decided to dive deeper into the technique. Now in 2022 I feel like I've learned so much about the process and I want to share what I've learned and problems you might face the more you dive into it.


Quick Disclaimer: Any link to amazon is an affiliate marketing link. All Amazon links in this post I have personally bought from Amazon.


Personally I'm a big fan of the photography process but a bigger fan the results of videography. I find the process of shooting and editing photography much more calming and less to worry about whereas videography requires a lot more equipment, a bit more planning and lot more post production work. By taking a time-lapse it would almost be combining the process of photography shooting with the result of videography right? I found out pretty quick that shooting a timelapse brings on its own set of hurdles. If you're here to dive into the world of timelapses buckle in this is going to be a lengthy post.


In case you forgot...

WHAT IS A TIMELAPSE AND HOW DO YOU CREATE ONE?

A timelapse involves the process of taking interval shots over a duration to produce a sequence of photos that can then be played in real-time as a video. So instead of watching a sunset take 1 hour to set you can watch it in 10 seconds as if it was in real time.


Just like taking a regular photo you're going to dial in your shutter speed, F-stop and ISO but you will also need to add 2 more parameters. The Interval and the duration.


a good equation to remember is:

SEQUENCE DURATION x FPS = # OF PHOTOS


It's always good to shoot for at least 10 seconds of finished video but in my opinion the longer the better unless you're setting up motion to the scene.


EG 10second video x 24 fps = 240 photos needed


TOOLS FOR A TIMELAPSE

Necessity:

  • Camera

  • Raw photo editor

  • Video editing program

Encouraged:

  • Tripod

  • Intervalometer

Optional:

  • ND filter

  • Gimbal

  • Slider

  • Battery Grip

  • Lens warmer

  • Photopills app

CAMERA

Everything Listed above, aside from a camera, is all technically optional gear. You may also need to invest in an Intervalometer if your camera doesn't have one built into it. In the past I shot with a Canon t2i/550D and was using a firmware called MagicLantern which enabled a built in intervalometer. So if you're shooting on a Canon this could be something to look into. Nowadays Im shooting on a Sony a6300 and a6500. My passion for timelapses had grown and I decided it would be beneficial to invest in a 2nd camera. This has allowed me to lock one up into a timelapse, keeping the 2nd one free to shoot with. The sony a6xxx series has a timelapse app that you can get for $10 on their marketplace. I started first by using this app but have shifted over to a new app that's free to download and easy to install on the Sony system. I was finding the Sony timelapse app tends to try and push the photo in a certain way depending on the scene you've set (mostly the white balance). This free app basically allows me to just shoot the RAW photo as is. The sony app will also create RAW, JPG and a MOV of the timelapse. It is nice to have these files but I really only need the RAWs.


EDITING SOFTWARE


That being said if you're shooting RAW you will need a RAW editing program. For batching editing timelapse sequences. I use Adobe Lightroom to edit and export PNG's and later import my sequence into Adobe Premiere or Adobe After Effects for a final video render.


Once you really get invested in creating timelapses another program to consider is LRTimelapse if you're experiencing flickering issues this program will really smooth things out and make your sequence really clean.


TRIPOD

In order to capture a timelapse you're going to need your camera stationary and although you don't need a tripod to accomplish one, it will make your life much easier. My old tripod was on the cheaper side, not exactly the most sturdy with a gimbal on it so at the beginning of this year I had purchased K&F Concept KF-TM2324. The tripod is decently sturdy holding up a range of len's including a hefty Tamron 150-500. It also allows for an extremely low angle, the legs can spread by 3 levels. If I'm ever mounting my Ronin RCS2 onto it I will make sure the legs are spread to 2 or 3 to ensure the weight is distributed for movement. Some areas of the tripod are plastic pieces which keeps me a tad nervous for its longevity but its been holding up just fine the past 6 months. It also has a load bearing hook on the bottom to help weigh things down if it's a windy day. Tripods range from $20-$500, as long as you can get your hands on something you can trust to hold your expensive camera you're set to go.


ND FILTER


If you shoot a lot of video you're probably familiar with a ND filter. A Neutral Density Filter will help neutralize the light in your scene, basically it's going to cut your highlights down allowing you to properly expose your entire scene without blowing out or being under exposed. ND filters are highly sought after in landscape photography, particularly for water. I have a variable ND Filter which allows me to stop down anywhere from ND3 - ND400. This gives me a range of stops in one filter as appose to having multiple different filter stops. If you have a filter like ND 400 you can stop down your light enough for a daytime long exposure, giving the smooth water look much like the timelapse of Hoggs falls above.


GIMBAL / SLIDER


Once you start getting your bearings on capturing a timelapse this is when you can start incorporating a little movement into your scenes. this will add a little more dynamic movement and create more of an immersive scene to your timelapse. I've used my DJI Ronin RCS2 into a couple timelapses this year to give the sequence a little extra movement to the scene. Adding a gimbal to your timelapse will start complicating things a little more so it's good to really get down tripod timelapses before jumping into adding movement. A motorized slider is also a great choice! I have yet to use one but really do love the subtle effect it gives. These optional tools are not a necessity but will help bring more value to your timelapse sequences.


LENS WARMER

Shot at an interval of 30 seconds over 3 hours, shutter: 25 seconds F2.8 ISO 500

(Tripod and Gimbal Used)


I was camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park and began this timelapse at Old Woman South River. There was tons of fog rolling on the lake so I knew the fog was inevitable.

Regardless of the fog I was still happy for the timelapse. This was my first successful attempt at incorporating a gimbal into my timelapse. keep reading to see some of the many errors I've made..


Shot at an interval of 30 seconds over 2 hours 20 minutes, shutter: 25 seconds F2.8 ISO 500

(Tripod and Gimbal Used)


A week later I picked up a cheap lens warmer from amazon and found my self out at Killarney Provincial Park. This is 5 hours south of Lake superior and I began this timelapse around 9pm, so I had assumed it wouldn't get to cold for fog but alas it struck when I least expected. I'm not 100% certain but I do believe having the lens rotating on a gimbal influences if it will fog up because I had a 2nd camera shooting a stationary timelapse set up that didn't fog up.

Shot at an interval of 30 seconds over 2 hours 40 minutes, shutter: 25 seconds F2.8 ISO 1600

(Tripod and Gimbal Used)

After the camera's battery had died I set up one last timelapse, this time with the lens warmer. As the fog rolled in and out over the lake it stayed off the lens!


BATTERY GRIP / SPARE BATTERIES / POWER SOURCE


The more and more invested I've become with timelapses the longer and longer I've began pushing them and again and again I'v run into batteries dying before finishing the timelapse. Quite the tricky situation when your cameras all set up on a gimbal mid-shoot. Extra batteries are always a good idea to have handy but a battery grip allows you to attach another 2 additional batteries extending your cameras life and ultimately lengthening your timelapse with minimal interruptions.


I would also like to note that it seems like having your camera hooked up to a gimbal controlling the shutter does reduce the battery life of your camera. I had a timelapse set up on a tripod and one set up on a gimbal, both starting at 100% battery and the camera on the gimbal seems to have only lasted 1/2 as long as the camera on the tripod. I believe this article addresses that


Alternatively you can bring a battery pack with a chord to plug in your camera or if you're by a power source you can get a hardwired battery to plug in. Realistically though the hardwired battery is only useful indoors and bringing a battery pack to charge the camera as it's shooting is not an option for me if I'm using the gimbal ( the micro usb will be in use )


PHOTOPILLS APP

Photopills is an app that has been amazing for pre-planning a timelapse. It has many features you'll find useful for the stars, sun, moon and more. I honestly don't think even I have fully utilized the app and all it has to offer. I really like using the AR feature to help me visualize where the sun will be setting. I also use it to check on the moon's phase to know when the best time to shoot stars will be. This app cost under $15 so if you have the extra cash to spend on it, it will greatly take away the guessing when you're setting up a shot.





COMMON ERRORS

Now these are going to sound like the most obvious things to prepare for when shooting a timelapse but let me say if you guys are anything like me its going to happen a couple times too many for my liking.


1. Before you go out and shoot make sure you have charged all your batteries. Especially if you’re wanting to shoot star lapses this requires a very long time which will require a fully charged battery. If you don't want to interrupt your shooting by switching out batteries you can bring a power bank and plug it in once the camera battery is close to dying.


2. Another thing to prepare ahead of time is clearing your memory card/formatting or always bringing a spare. I've arrived to a place several times not checking my SD card and it being nearly full I wasn’t able to capture full timelapses

3. I had no Idea this Aurora was going to show up so south at Grand Bend and as cool as this 2 second timelapse video was HAVING THE RAW PHOTOS WOULD'VE BEEN GREAT. This is an instance when I failed to check photos+video on the sony timelapse app. Make sure you always shoot RAW and if you’re using the Sony timelapse app make sure you have RAW+video selected and not just video. You will be stuck with 1080 video. They are scaling down the photos to 1080 so you do have the sharpness but you're stuck with 1080 which is not ideal for todays standards. It's the difference between a 1080p sequence and a 6k sequence which becomes a fairly substantial difference.


Shot at an interval of 1min over 3.5 hours, shutter: 30seconds F2.8 ISO 1600

(Gimbal Used)



4. This was the first timelapse I successfully incorporated a gimbal movement into the sequence and seeing this off my camera's tiny LCD I was so excited. Only to later discover later I MISSED FOCUS BY A LONG SHOT. So to avoid that nonsense switch from autofocus to manual focus and Triple check your focus before starting a timelapse. Its really easy to lose focus on stars so always triple down pulling your focus to ensure you get a clean photo. Nothing is sadder than an out of focus timelapse.





IN CAMEREA SETTINGS

The settings for every timelapse are going to vary depending on what you're shooting. If you're shooting a landscape timelapse you're more than likely trying to shoot one of the following:

  • Clouds

  • sunset/sunrise

  • stars

  • holy grail


Other things to consider:

  • Plants

  • Light/shadows casting

  • hyperlapse

CLOUDS

Shot at an interval of 6 seconds over 50 minutes, shutter: 1/15 seconds F8 ISO 100

(Tripod and ND Filter used)


cloud-lapses provide the biggest surprise in my opinion. Because clouds usually evolve over longer periods of time you don't really get to see what a timelapse shows in realtime so its always a bit of surprise to see what the clouds have done. My personal favourite are the ____ clouds to slowly evolve over time. When you're shooting clouds its best to keep your interval between 3 & 6 seconds depending on how fast they are moving.


If you're shooting fog you may want to opt for a ND filter to allow for a slower shutter speed. This will add some motion blur to fog creating a little more moody of a sequence.


These are my most ideal clouds personally. I absolutely love the slow rolling clouds over a nice landscape. This was taken at a quick little viewpoint along the trans-canada Highway just outside of Squamish.


Shot at an interval of 25 seconds over 1 hour and 30 minutes, shutter: 30 seconds F2.8 ISO 100

(Tripod and Gimbal used)

The original intention of this timelapse was for a starlapse but with all the clouds I thought it might be interesting to get that because I don't have many cloud timelapses at night. The clouds did clear up but sadly the battery did not last so I only managed to capture the clouds dissipating. The gimbal also did not provide as much movement as I expected


Shot at an interval of 7 seconds over 16 minutes, shutter: 1/1600 seconds F2.8 ISO200

(Tripod used)

Showed up a little late to this one. With not much time left i set up a quick timelapse to fire off the end of the sunset. This one actually looked pretty bomb I really first I was able to capture the beginning of it. This is a sunset timelapse but the main focus ended up being the clouds.


SUNSET & SUNRISE

Shot at an interval of 4 seconds for 25 minutes, shutter: 1/13 seconds F2.8 ISO 100, Focal Length: 12mm

(Tripod used)

Sunset timelapses are going to be the most vibrant timelapse you can capture. When you're scouting for a location to shoot the weather is going to play %90 role in your sequence. Always check the weather ahead of time before leaving for a destination. Clouds are actually your friend in this instance. A blue sky sunset is not really going to give that WOW effect you're going for. If you do find yourself setting up for a clear sky sunset it might be best to direct your attention towards a subject matter instead. Watching the light fall off that subject may be more interesting then watching a glowing ball go over the horizon.



STARS


Shot at an interval of 25 seconds over 3 hours, shutter: 30 seconds F2.8 ISO 500, Focal Length: 12mm

(Tripod used)

Starlapses are really what got me into capturing timelapses, It's kind of this grand spectacle in my opinion. I used to watch these snowboard videos by a great company ISENSEVEN. They had some amazing cinematography and always had starlapses in them that always left me in awe and drove me to start capturing my own. The timelapse above was taken back in April on the patio of my friends place out in Whistler. the lit up tree and houses are a bit of an eye sore being over exposed but I was shooting on a 12mm focal length to try and capture the most sky I can. I attempted to tone down the highlights the best I could in post.

Shot at an interval of 30 seconds over 9 hours, shutter: 1/100 seconds F8 ISO 100, Focal Length: 112mm

(Tripod and Lightbox used )

when you're shooting a starlapse you'll want to choose a shutter speed anywhere from 10-30 seconds depending on your scene and desire. I shoot on a APS-C sensor so I have to take the 300rule into consideration, 30 seconds might be just a little too long. If you zoom in you’ll notice the stars start to leave trails. This is where the 500/ or 300/ rule applies. If you're shooting on a full frame it'll be the 500rule and a crop sensor 300rule . So for star photos I'm usually shooting on a crop sensor so thats 300/ my focal length (12) = 25seconds. So I should be looking to use 25 second exposure max, before star trails begin showing up.


For your aperture they say f/2.8 works best but if you want to ensure sharp stars consider bumping up to f/4 but generally the more open the better


Shot at an interval of 30 seconds over 2 hours 45 min, shutter: 30 seconds F2.8 ISO 1600, Focal Length: 12mm

(Tripod used )


I will usually experiment with the ISO ranging from 100-500. ISO 500 will expose a lot more but with that will come more grain so set this to your desire. I used to strictly shoot in between 100-200 ISO for stars timelapses but have more recently been experimenting with 1600 iso depending on my scene. These northern lights were captured again at Killarney. Having zero light from the moon I knew this would be a dark one.


Quick tip: once you take a photo if you magnify it and see a green halo around the stars you're focus is to close, if you see a magenta halo around the stars you've focused to far away


HOLY GRAIL

A holy grail timelapse is a day to night transition. This makes it a little trickier to set up the proper exposure. For these kinds of timelapses you will need to have variable setting to adjust to the amount of light over the duration. The easiest way to do this is to switch over to aparture priority mode. Another way is to set up a variable shutter/iso speeds to change throughout the scene. This is when you will experience the most flickering in a timelapse and you may need to consider investing in LRTimelapse for that smoothing out



I haven't managed to capture a true holy grail timelapse Im fully happy with but the above timelapses. They are my only 2 attempts at it. The first one was off the balcony of my place, not the best spot for star gazing but the holy grail turned out decent. The second one had the right location, bad sunrise haha. Stary night fade to blueness :(


PLANTS

I'm only going to touch on this briefly because of my limited knowledge in the space and you're probably here for the landscapes but for those dedicated few, it's the ultimate timelapse requiring the most care and attention. capturing a timelapse for plant growth is going to vary drastically across the board. For some it could be a photo every 10 minutes for others it could be a shot once a day. Research the plant you're intending to capture and determine how long this process is roughly going to take. Also take into consideration how long you want your sequence to be and how fast you want it to unfold.

This was my first attempt to shooting a plant growing. I set up this timelapse for a photo every 10 seconds. I knew this was not going to be anything great, this was more of a test to see how much the plant moves around. I kept it on Aperture priority because I knew the light source would be varied. I believe I shot this for a little under 24 hours and well as you can see... nothing too spectacular. I put my plant timelapse ambitions on hold until I came across this hibiscus braid. On sale for $6 and I thought whats the worst that can happen. One of the best $6 I have ever invested into a scene.

Shot at an interval of 10 minutes over 9 hours, shutter: 1/100 seconds F8 ISO 100, Focal Length: 112mm

(Tripod and Lightbox used )

After fighting off a pesky infestation the first flower peaked its way through for its first blossom. This timelapse was set to intervals of 10 minutes and shot for probably a little over 9 hours. This sequence was set up in a mini photography studio with consistent lighting.

Shot at an interval of 10 minutes over 12 hours, shutter: 1/100 second F5.6 ISO 200, Focal Length: 135mm

(Tripod and Lightbox used)

After the first attempt and thrilled with the results I noticed the next bud opening. I quickly set up the next sequence and let it run for another day. I really liked the side angle I got the first time and wanted to try and get a slightly closer with a little more depth of field. I knew it was a little risky making the DOP so shallow but knew it could be really cool if achieved properly. For this timelapse I had shortened the interval to slow down the flower opening by 1/2.



CASTING LIGHT & SHADOWS

This is going to take the most pre-planning and forethought to properly accomplish. You'll need a decent understanding on how lights and casting shadows work, be able to predict where the sun will go and how the shadows will react to the environment and how you're going to compose that in a shot.


Shot at an interval of 3 seconds over 20 minutes, shutter: 1/125 seconds F5.6 ISO 200 Focal Length: 12mm

(ND Filter and Gimbal used)

This is really the only shot I have that best represents this. Aside from this shot I have never really planned to specifically go shoot casting light and shadows but maybe that'll have to be next on the list... If you are intending to shoot this it would be best if you can scout your location ahead of time, find a cool composition where you think the light and shadows will be passing through


POST EDITING


Once you've captured your timelapse its time to bring everything onto the computer to edit and render off a final sequence. I would first copy all you files over to its new place of storage. I have a dedicated hard drive for all my footage and usually organize it chronologically.


Within that dated folder Ill create a folder for the timelapse and with in that folder have folder for my RAWs and a folder for the EDIT


Open up lightroom and import that folder. If your light stays pretty much the same throughout your entire sequence then choose any photo, if the light varies it's probably best to choose a photo at the in between of where you want the sequence to impact the most.




Once you select a photo we will use this as our base edit to apply to the entire sequence. This is where shooting RAW will make all the difference. It will help bring back your highlights and up your shadows and tweak everything until you're happy. Now if you have your own specific way you like to edit photos this is where your own creativity can take place. I’ve been going for a pretty basic edit with bright colours, nothing to crazy from what you see in real life, just just a little more saturated ;) At the end of my editing I will maybe sometimes throw a light LUT onto it but it depends on the photo and if this timelapse is going into a larger video.

Once were happy with our edit make sure you have that photo selected and hit alt-A or Cmd a to select all your photos and and hit sync.

Once all the photos have the edit let's go ahead and export our photos into a new folder.



Now let's open up Premiere or After Effects, this will work in both. I find After Effects is a tad easier to quickly render out a sequence without setting up a whole project but for this I'll do it in premiere since its what most of you will be using.


Lets go File>Import to import our sequence. Select the first image and make sure "Image sequence" is selected. This will import our time lapse as a sequence instead on an individual photo.


By default Premiere is going to import sequences at 29.97fps and we want to change that over to 24fps to get a little more duration out of our timelapse. To do this: right click on your sequence > modify > interpret footage > in these settings check "assume this FPS" and put in your desired fps.







If you want to set it so that Premiere will import every sequence in at a specific fps as the default go to premiere preferences > go to the media tab and select the Indeterminate media timebase and change that over to your desired FPS.









Once we have our FPS set we can right click > create new sequence with clip. You can adjust colours and exposure in the lumetri corrections. We've already don't most our editing in Lightroom but you can do any final tweaks you may want.


If you captured you timelapse on a tripod we can can also add a little fake motion to the scene to add depth. this is when shooting RAW is going to have its advantages. If I wanted to scale into my sequence with RAW I will have a 6000x4000 sequence in a 3840x2160 frame so that leaves a lot of room to play.


If you've made it this far thanks for reading. I hope you find this useful for your future endeavours. If you enjoyed this material stay tuned for a Youtube video going over all this stuff and diving a little deeper into the editing side. I have an older timelapse tutorial I feel i didn't properly go over everything.


If you are a fan of my stuff you can check out more stuff here:

The Story Behind Every Photo

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A few honourable mentions of some big screw ups...






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